Five years ago Fernando Alonso was just another F3000 hopeful. Enter Flavio Briatore…
Fernando Alonso took the lead of the World Championship in Malaysia way back in March, and thanks to the advantage he established with a run of three successive wins there has been a degree of inevitably about his quest for the 2005 title. But that doesn’t make his eventual success any less impressive.
When Michael Schumacher won the first of his five consecutive titles with Ferrari back in 2000, Fernando was a teenager competing in F3000. He was obviously good, but so were many others racing that year. Not until he won at Spa — he drove for the local Astromega outfit — did anyone really take notice.
Of course, back then no one believed that Ferrari’s reign would last for half a decade. McLaren and Mika Häkkinen were still strong, and the new BMW Williams combination, with Juan Pablo Montoya about to join, looked set for great things. It seemed certain that one or the other would topple Michael at some point. At the same time Benetton, as it was then, was in decline, struggling through a succession of management changes. It bore little resemblance to the mighty organisation that took Schumacher to his first World titles back in 1994 and ’95.
Flavio Briatore changed all that when, after temporary exile, he found himself back in the Benetton fold. Renault bought the team and decided to keep the man who had worked a little magic just a few years before.
Love him or loathe him, Briatore is a great motivator and is good at picking the right people. And that includes drivers. He might not stand on corners analysing technique, but he listens to advice from those who know and he’s a good judge of character. Alonso was brought to his attention and, before any other F1 folk acted, he nabbed him. Quite how Flav has managed to juggle his role as team principal with that of driver manager remains a mystery to most, but even his critics can’t deny that in this case he made an inspired choice.
Fernando’s 2005 season has been quite magnificent. A few months ago, when Kimi Räikkönen suffered a string of retirements with what was clearly a faster car, it looked like it might be a hollow victory. But latterly I think the general perception has changed. So what if the McLaren was quicker?
Renault also did an awesome job, starting the season with the best package and then, when it was overtaken, ensuring that its man had a reliable car that was always good enough for at least third, and better if McLaren or its drivers screwed up. Alonso proved his worth by keeping the pressure on his rivals while making virtually no mistakes himself. If anything, winning with the slower car is even more of an achievement. A new era begins…